For this young Latina voter, pandemic highlights the need for 'Medicare for All'

Mar 24, 2020

This story is part of "Every 30 Seconds," a collaborative public media reporting project tracing the young Latino electorate leading up to the 2020 presidential election and beyond. 

Leticia Arcila was looking forward to casting her vote for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Georgia’s Democratic presidential primary on March 24. As a home health aide who does not have health insurance herself, Sanders’ "Medicare for All" plan sounded appealing. 

Then the coronavirus outbreak hit, and Georgia delayed its primary to May 19. For Arcila, the need for a health care plan that covers everyone — including immigrants like her parents — never seemed so important. 

Arcila is a 19-year-old, first-generation Mexican American. Born in Chicago and raised in Florida, she and her family have spent the last five years in Atlanta, where Arcila graduated from high school.

Since turning 18 and becoming eligible to vote, Arcila has voted in two local elections. This November will be the first time she will get to vote in a presidential race.

In Georgia, voters like Arcila who are young and Latino are rising in number. The state recently implemented automatic voter registration, which has boosted the number of registered young voters. More than a million Latinos live in Georgia, making it the state with the 10th-highest Hispanic population in the US. 

“I’ve wanted Bernie to win since Hillary Clinton versus Trump” in 2016, Arcila said.

Related: Every 30 seconds, a young Latino in the US turns 18. Their votes count more than ever. 

No one could have predicted a global pandemic when the 2020 presidential election season began. Still, health care issues were always a big reason Arcila supports Sanders.

“From my perspective as someone who just came into the adult life in the US, I think about, ‘How am I going to afford this? How am I going to afford that? How am I going to get insurance that is going to cover anything in case anything ever happens?”

Leticia Arcila, 19-year-old voter

“When he speaks about health care, I look at it personally,” she said. “From my perspective as someone who just came into the adult life in the US, I think about, ‘How am I going to afford this? How am I going to afford that? How am I going to get insurance that is going to cover anything in case anything ever happens?'”

The spread of coronavirus has only magnified those concerns. 

Life without health insurance

Arcila doesn’t have health insurance. She was reminded of how disconcerting that can be a few weeks ago when she had an accident at work. Arcila is a home health care worker who takes care of an elderly woman in her house.

“I was giving her food and I had a cup of hot tea in the other room, which is where we usually stay,” she said. “They have a rug underneath the bed and I slipped on it, and I tore a ligament in my knee.”

She wound up in the emergency room, where she got an X-ray and some naproxen to relieve her pain. Arcila saw a doctor, who told her to follow up with an orthopedist. When she went to check out, a receptionist handed her a bill for $1,300 and asked Arcila how she would like to pay. Arcila said she was stunned.

“I [asked her], ‘OK, is there any way I can make payments?’ Then she [said], ‘OK, well, you could, but we also have a 75% discount [for] people who don't have insurance,’” Arcila said.

The discount brought Arcila’s bill down to $350. She was able to pay, and because the accident happened at work, her employer reimbursed her.

Related: The top issue for one Arizona first-time voter? Health care.

Still, the experience reinforced her support for Sanders. She said she wants the US to switch to a Medicare for All plan. 

Arcila is not just worried about herself. She has three younger siblings who are on her parents’ Medicaid plan. One of her sisters has epilepsy. But when they all turn 18, they won’t be eligible anymore. 

“...I don't want to have to worry about my sisters when they're older, or my brother going, when he's older, and thinking about the same exact things.”

Leticia Arcila, 19-year-old voter

“I'm an American citizen," she said. "I don't want to have to worry about my sisters when they're older, or my brother going, when he's older, and thinking about the same exact things.”

The family connection

In addition to Medicare for All, Sanders also says he’ll place a moratorium on deportations. 

That’s important to Arcila because although she is a US citizen, her parents are undocumented. Both of them have applied for US permanent residency. 

“My family is from Mexico, Morelia, Michoacán, and yeah, they're undocumented, and we're currently going through the documentation process,” she said. “So, we're pretty excited about that — nervous and excited. It’s a mixture of both.”

Some of the family recently drove to Florida to attend her parents’ recent residency hearing in court. Arcila said attorneys questioned her parents for a few hours, but the judge didn’t rule on the case.

The family’s attorney thinks the hearing went well, but she isn’t sure how long it will take the court to make a decision.  

There's a lot at stake. If her parents are deported, Arcila could take custody of her younger siblings, including her sister with epilepsy. She said it would be too much for her mother to handle if her parents have to return to Mexico.

“She wouldn't be able to afford my sister's treatment,” Arcila said. Her sister sees a neurologist and a therapist, and also receives special care at school. In Mexico, those resources would be out of reach. 

A president fit for a pandemic

Bernie Sanders now trails his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. Sanders has said he is "reassessing" his campaign, raising questions on whether he will drop out soon. 

Still, Arcila said she still supports Sanders 100%.

She thinks his health care plan could make a difference in times like these, when so many people are worried about the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Arcila is worried, too. She said she’s meticulous about social distancing because the elderly woman she cares for is in a vulnerable group. So, is her mother, who has diabetes.

If a bill on Medicare for All was passed, she said, "I think that would be such a big relief for everyone.”


From The World ©2019